In Cloud Eye Control’s Half Life, performed at Columbus Theatre on November 21, images projected in front and behind an actor create the illusion that the woman, moving subtly on the stage, is being whipped through mountains or getting lost in the sea. She holds up her hand to have a flurry of dots fly out of it. Fish swim across the stage as they are consumed by a fiery red substance. Half Life uses multimedia and technology to build illusions not typical of live performances. The scenes layer animation with sound and movement to produce an abstract but visceral exploration of feelings of uncertainty and isolation in the wake of Fukushima.
In a talkback after the performance, co-creators Chi-wang Yang and Miwa Matreyek explained how they and their third partner, Anna Huff, devised the show not through a focus on ‘story,’ but by approaching larger themes and ideas, such as what Matreyek called a ”collective imagination of fear.” The scenes go back and forth between two characters, A-ko and B-ko, with one moving through natural environments, and the other in a sanitized, virtual reality, where she interacts with screens and projected faces. The show makes use of contrasting images and forms, such as nature breaking down, and operatic songs alongside futuristic video game-esque soundscapes.
The multimedia not only influences the content of the show, but becomes an inherent part of the experience in theme and form. The characters interact with it in various ways, from responding to static projections to directly influencing the technology. In part of the show, one of the women sits in front of a camera, which sends the image onto a screen in front of her, where a model is digitally rendered on top. At times, the screens are ever so slightly re-arranged to box the actor in and physically isolate the characters, trapped in their separate worlds. Through layering different elements, the show creates feelings of chaos that draw attention to the anxiety and trauma of a broken world.
During the talkback, the actors, Jenny Greer and Sara Sinclair Gomez, said the presence of technology also posed a performance challenge as they did not have real life people and objects to engage with.
Quieter moments where the projections fade, silhouettes and shadows take over the stage, are perhaps the starkest, most vulnerable moments in the show, but they are briefly lived. During the talkback, Yang explained that stillness was the hardest to capture amidst so many facets of the performance. Indeed, the final scene, where the characters come to the front of the stage, making contact with each other for the first time, singing an emotional operatic appeal, almost falls short compared to the energy of the rest of the piece.
Perhaps Half Life is signalling a new era for performance art and theater makers, simultaneously highlighting the potential of new multimedia forms while pointing a finger to its emptiness. The audience is left to marvel at what is possible, and mourn the moments of real human interaction that get lost along the way.